I've created an annual reading challenge for authors to grow their business and craft. I am sharing it becuase we are all in this together. You could probably apply it to any creative business with just a few adjustments.
I have not written a blog or newsletter in a while. I could make excuses, but quite frankly I set everything down last fall and am now just picking it back up. Writing projects, the book I was reading, everything. I lost my father suddenly on November 1st. And for those of you who have experienced loss, you know that limp feeling that takes over, where nothing tastes right, nothing feels right, and there is no creativity or light in your day? That is where I was. For those of you who have not experienced it yet, you will at some point. And I am here to tell you it is okay to allow yourself the grace to grieve.
There really was so much more to that moment in my life. My MIL was already battling Breast cancer. She'd had a double partial mastectomy and developed MRSA infections in both surgery sites. I, being the only female in the family, became her main support. My 15-year-old dog was struggling with day to day life. My roof was leaking. I was planning Christmas already because my son was coming home from college for the month. I was working on a couple projects for clients, planning an author extravaganza in December. You get it, life was happening. And I was managing it all. That’s my personality. Bring it on. I can manage it. Between oncology and veterinarian appointments, I received a call that my father, who lived in another state, had been diagnosed with cancer and given a year to live. So, I began to shuffle priorities. I would see him when my brother got married in a few months so I still had control over enerything I needed. Then the next day my brother called and said the Doctors were wrong, dad had a week. I shuffeled faster. And the next day he was gone. It happened that quick.
At that moment I literally sat down. I figurately let go, and everything I was ‘managing’ toppled to my feet. Nothing I did mattered. It was as if I had fallen into a river that rushed around me, and the one branch I struggled to keep a grip on wasn't helping. Trying to hold on only seemed to force my head under. So, I let go. I had no fight left. I didn’t care enough to make a decision about what I would have for dinner, let alone a business decision. I called any obligations and explained I needed a hiatus. I knew it could cost me dearly, but I also gave myself permission to just accept the consequences of letting go.
Despair has movement like a river. It speeds up and swirls all around you at times. Then there are moments dark stillness. I rode out the rough spots, and sought peace in the quiet. I felt myself floating freely, finding solace in the ebb and flow of the torrent around me not caring where I ended up in the end.
I happened to have a doctor appointment of my own scheduled, one which I had no choice but to keep. When the Doctor heard all that had happened, she said I showed symptoms of depression and offered an anti-depressant. I declined, not because I am brave, or have anything against taking anti-depressants. But I found her offer strange. I thought, or felt, I had every right to be sad at that moment. That sounds like a strange statement, but it is accurate none the less.
I kept envisioning this river of sadness I floated in. Happiness. Life. Joy. It all sat on the far shore. Every once in a while, I’d get the impulse to swim for that shore. But my arms were heavy and the strokes were difficult in the beginning. I mostly gave up before I even got started. So I worried that taking anti-depressants would cause me to get comfortable enough to stay in the river rather than even attempting to swim for shore. I thought perhaps what I felt was not the same as chronic depression that many people suffer from, that my sadness was a result of loss, a process I had to get through. And that taking the anti-depressants would just prolong that process. Perhaps if I didn't work through it now, it would just be waiting for me later when I tried to stop taking the anti-depressants. Or worse, I would lose site of the shore entirely and never leave the river. This may sound weird, but I chose to embrace the sadness, to drift in it until I felt like swimming.
When I spoke with my brothers, we wondered at how the world didn’t seem to notice. How everything went on as usual, and how we felt numb to it all. And I continued to drift.
It's been three months. And I find swimming toward that shore is easier. This week I picked up one of the items I dropped that day. I finished the book I had been reading. It felt good, like reclaiming part of my "normal". Sometimes I think I am free from the river. Other times I realize although my feet touch bottom, the water still tugs at my legs trying to reclaim me.
We talk about things like self-care and mental health as if they were goals to be met rather than things to experience. I tell you, whoever needs to hear this, you do not need to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and get on with life on anyone else’s schedule. You have a right to feel whatever grief you feel. It is part of the healing process. If you need help from those around you, ask for it. But do not feel bad or ashamed for taking the time you need to swim to shore. You don't have to hold the world together while you grieve, it will be there when you get to the other side.
The Good, The Bad, and The "What The Crap Did I Just Read?"
Just an announcement, in case you have not noticed.... I've moved my monthly book wrap up solely to my newsletter. It just makes sense, so you all are not getting duplicate information from multiple sources if you happen to follow me on more than one platform. If you don't subscribe to my newsletter, why don't you? I send one a month with super hot book recommendations, and perhaps a blog post every couple of weeks, only if there is something interesting to share. No spam, I promise. Sign up and check it out.
As authors, we are no strangers to project management. We use it in all aspects of writing from planning the book to planning the book tour. But I feel like many authors don't do much planning when it comes to their website. We get tangled in all the things we are expected to have on a website between our blog and book buying links, back links to other resources and all the other attention-grabbing elements that are part of our brand. Often, we miss mark of creating a balance between usability and information access.
This is where project management even for your website becomes important. Planning the steps by creating a task list, research, monitoring progress and budget, implementation and review. Will help you fit the most important elements in a way that makes sense as well as decide where best to spend your budget, especially if it is a tight one. For example, if you only have $100 a month to spend, you need to know if you want to spend $20 a month on blogging images, or $20 a month on a newsletter list tool.
I suggest using a process called wire framing to outline the pages and plan each tag, hyperlink and button making sure you have everything you need to be successful and drive traffic and sales the way you hope to in the time frame you need them. I know you are thinking your time would be better spent planning the next book. But consider this, your website is the hub of your brand. It is the thing that all social media and platforms like Goodreads, Amazon and the like point to, your virtual store front if you will. Don't you think it warrants the same consideration any other large part of your business plan receives?
Networking and personal branding has always been hard for me. I have no problem walking up and saying hi to someone, especially if they are holding a cute baby, or puppy, or planner, something I can relate to. When that happens, just try to get me to shut up. It’s the next step that is difficult for me. The part when they say hi back and are holding your hand in a friendly shake looking at you expectantly. Bridging the moment between introduction and elevator pitch is like crossing the Grand Canyon for me. And I think it’s that way for many authors.
By nature, authors spend a lot of time alone in our heads. It’s what we do. But, being an author is not exactly a solitary job anymore. You have to get out there and mingle to sell books. Every once in a while we see an opportunity and jump on it, but have you ever been on a rope bridge? That is how those fleeting moments feel to me. I want a more solid, reliable way to cross that cavern. That bridge has come in the form of networking.
The very first day of school I asked my marketing instructor, “How do I stand out in a saturated market?” He answered, “In a world full of barking dogs, be a cat.” Okay, so do I walk around meowing, looking for a can of tuna? All semester I have been wondering what does that mean? Then, this week two of my classes tackled the topic of networking simultaneously. And the curtains flew back letting in the light! AaHaaaaaaaa!
I’ve been studying networking all week and really thinking about how it applies to us solitary authors holed up in our office or local coffee shop doing our thing. How do you network when you are literally alone? Well first of all, you get out of the mind set about trying to sell your book to every person who walks by. I have this term I like to use called ‘carnival barking’. You can’t sell books if the people walking by hear “Step right up, I’ve got something for you to see. Don’t miss out.” Do you know how many times I get an email or a post in my feed that actually uses the words “Don’t miss out”? It’s obscene. Instead focus on building a bridge (network) to people who care about the same things you care about (brand). See what I did right there?
Don’t run away screaming because I used that word from the 50’s that brings up connotations of men in smoky back rooms with sweaty handshakes wearing funny hats wheeling and dealing. That is not networking. That is film noir and if you come across it in real life, run. It ends badly for the innocent. No, networking is much easier than you think. Let’s say it again… Build a bridge to people who care about what you care about. Network to your tribe around your brand. Get it?
So how does a person who is used to solitary confinement network? As it turns out, the answer is pretty simple. Service. You may not be a Chatty Kathy, but you know how to help people right? Build bridges and leave them up for cross traffic. For example, I write zombie romance novels. If I find someone doing research on bug out bags, or survival bags in my snowmobile group and I say hey, I know a thing or two about bugging out and help them. The fact that I write zombie novels is just a happy side note. Then when a friend mentions they love a good zombie book, the person I helped is going to say, I know a lady.
Find people you can be of service to. Solve their problems. Don’t worry about selling them a book right now. You don’t even know if they read, or what they read. Focus on being helpful. In your blog posts, newsletters and online groups, solve a problem. They WILL notice you. 50 Shades didn’t spread like wild fire because everyone stumbled across it. It spread because people were talking about it. Be what people are talking about by building your bridges.
Do authors need to carry insurance for writing? The answer might surprise you.
I read an article this month about independent contractors carrying Professional Liability Insurance. My first thought was I wonder if book designers and editors carry this type of insurance. But I'm an author, I don't need it. Then I got to thinking... or do I? I did some research and the answer may surprise you as much as it did me. Turns out, yeah, yeah I do. And so do you. Self-published and traditionally published, all of us are at risk.
So what is PLI insurance, aka Errors and Omissions Insurance? Well, here I go quoting Forbes again...
"Professional Liability Insurance: this type of insurance is also known as Errors and Omissions Insurance. The policy provides defense and damages for failure to or improperly rendering professional services. Your general liability policy does not provide this protection, so it is important to understand the difference. Professional liability insurance is applicable for any professional firm including lawyers, accountants, consultants, notaries, real estate agents, insurance agents, hair salons and technology providers to name a few..." excerpt from 13 Types of Insurance A Small Business Owner Should Have
Back in 2008 Writer's Digest reported (read here) a general increase in authors being sued for all sorts of things from accidentally plagiarism to copyright infringement and liable. They noted even back then that it wasn't just the self publishing world being effected by this, depending on the contract, authors with traditional publishing house backing them were taking a hit in their royalties when and if the published house got sued because of something they wrote.
In fact The Balance reported a similar article as Forbes in 2017 focused specifically on what types of insurance a writer needs. Sure enough, PLI is at the top of the list.
Why insurance? Because by putting yourself out there, you put everything you have at risk. People get snarky when they feel their rights have been stepped on. Often times that can lead to ugliness even when it was never your intention. Why not protect yourself when all it takes is a phone call to your current insurance agent and a few questions?
I'd love to hear from you in the comments about any experience you have in this area, both good and bad.
Happy writing my friends!
You may have noticed with some of my past posts I am on a new kick. Treating your writing career as a business. Why, you ask? Well, it has come to my attention that the number question for authors is, "How do I sell more books?" It was my question too. So, I decided to go back to school, not to learn to write, but to learn to sell what I have written.
It's only taken one quarter to understand that us authors, being creative types, are looking at things backwards. You want to sell more books? Don't ask yourself, "What would an author do?" Ask instead, "What would a small business do to market themselves?" Because, an author writes (hopefully you have that part down), but a small business SELLS.
Back to the question at hand. How do I sell more books? You must learn to market them as any business must market its product. Oh, that’s a no brainer you say? Really? Then explain why in Forbes magazine's State of Small Business Marketing article published just 6 months ago, they indicate the struggle is real for ALL small businesses? See, it’s not just us.
Let’s hit that switch for a minute, think like small business owners and apply Forbes' points to our own business marketing.
1. Online reviews can help – or hurt - a business.
As authors we tend to take reviews very personally. But Forbes points out, reviews are a powerful tool, both good and bad. They are a direct feed into the customer's mind, point #4, but we’ll get there. Us authors live and die by reviews, yet if we get 10 bad ones we tend to shout "trolls" and "haters", when they are giving us invaluable feedback. They are telling us something is wrong. They can’t all be "haters". It means we need to polish the craft or adjust our marketing techniques to a more appropriate audience. How long would a restaurant who gets tons of bad reviews, without adjusting their service, stay in business? See how adopting a business mindset can improve your view of what is happening?
2. Few small business owners outsource their marketing.
A direct quote form the Forbes article, “Street Fight’s research on small business owners found that among business owners that either do their marketing themselves, delegate it to an internal team, or outsource it to an agency, the owners who do their marketing themselves are the least satisfied with their results.” Sound familiar? How many authors DYI everything, including the marketing?
Do you know why they are least satisfied with their results? Because they/we are not marketing experts. We are world builders and character developers, not marketing executives. In last week’s blog post I said authors/small business owners had to be willing to invest in their own business. Here is the perfect place to do it.
3. Small businesses tend to neglect their websites.
Forbes said it, not me. But, really? There are people out there who still don’t know the power of SEO? As authors we sure do, right? However, when you look at your website, if it were that of an author you’ve never read, would you click through? Would you put the time into searching for the links? Sometimes it’s hard to take the “I’m in love with my own product” goggles off and look at things from a neutral point of view. That’s a great time to get your customers involves and get feedback, which brings me to number #4. I told you we would get there.
4. The customer is priority #1.
Remember those reviews? That’s your customers telling you what they want. Listen to them, interact with them. Get to know them. Do you know who your customer is? Where does she hangout? Do you hang out there too? Are you marketing in the right places? Are they foaming at the moth to buy your next book? Or are they unsubscribing from your daily emails? Listen to them. They are talking to you. Giving the customer what they are looking for will boost your sales as it does for every small business.
5. Facebook is still the social platform to be on.
HA! I knew it. People still hangout on Facebook, they just do it differently as the algorithms change. You are a business not a person, for the purpose of this post, and customers are still looking to Facebook for interaction and information on businesses. I know there are people out there who say Facebook is dying, but have you been on it today? Sure you have. Changing is not the same thing as dying and Facebook Groups and Facebook Live gives us new opportunities to interact with our customers in new ways. It’s not just about the number of follows anymore. Remember number 4? If we are doing that correctly and building a relationship, getting that return business and really connecting with people, then if Facebook does decide to disappear one day it won’t matter, your loyal following will follow you to the next place. Concentrate on the task at hand. Taking care of your customers and building the relationships, not chasing the next best thing.
What can you do different to market your writing like the small business you are, and sell more books? It’s the question we all want answered so if you have any ideas, or thoughts on my interpretation of the Forbes article, I’d love to see them in the comments below.
As an author all you want to do is create. No one told you that you were about to become a small business owner. An entrepreneur. A solo-preneur. Not once in all those fantasies of a laptop angled just right in front of the window of your office over looking the lake in your picturesque log cabin, or your flat in Manhattan, did you picture yourself having to do a P&L report or a cash flow projection.
Today, I am here to burst your bubble. If you want to be successful, you must run your writing career as a small business. You must track cash flow to determine your next business move. You must file taxes and you must take every nuance of the business end of writing as seriously as your take the works you type on the screen. If you do not, you are doomed to be classified as a hobbyist author by the IRS, by money lenders and by investors. If you want to buy a house some day and the bank asks what you do for a living, and you say “I’m an author”, you had better be ready to back that up with proof you take yourself seriously if you expect them to.
Yes, authors must abide by the laws and practices of small business ownership if they are to succeed and turn a profit. There are many resources that share best Small Business practices, however I want to share this amazing article by Forbes about the 5 things that will Sink a Business, because authors, YOU ARE A BUSINESS, whether you know it or not.
Here is my take on each mistake…
Bad accounting – If you don’t keep track of what is coming in versus what is going out, you won’t be able to make wise decisions about growth. Deciding on your next step. This is every bit as much true for deciding which book to write next as it is for car companies to decide which car to design next. Being a creative is not an excuse to ignore the bottom line, unless the IRS is right, and you are a hobbyist.
Combined bank accounts – You may not be making much money at first, but if you get in the habit of doing things the right way from the beginning, as you grow and you have to pay yourself as well as your personal assistant, it is easier to learn to manage two accounts and the flow through when there is only $100 bucks flowing than when there is $50,000. Start on the right foot now and learn as you grow.
Poorly priced products – This is a pet peeve of mine. I understand why authors give books away. And I agree it can be a powerful tool. However, you spent a good portion of your life writing and working that novel into a master piece, I think turning around and telling your readers it is worth $0 is a mistake. You don’t see Ford giving away thousands of cars in an effort to get their patrons to buy the next one. How is your effort any less valuable? Some authors swear by it, but from what I have seen is that sort of thing attracts people who would not pay for a book no matter how good it was. That’s just bad business.
Non existent investing – In the beginning I am all about doing things on the cheap, however at some point you have to be willing to invest in yourself. If you don’t find value in what you are doing, how can you expect others to? Authors invest in themselves by taking classes to learn new things, paying for resources and paying for services because you cannot be the best at everything.
Non existent online presence – There are many small businesses that just don’t want to do this, but we all know, especially in the publishing industry. Brand is key, and your online brand is everything. You are not just selling books, you are selling your author personality. That is how you build trust and repeat business.
But don’t take my word for it, read what Forbes has to say about it here and remember, you are a small business. It’s time to think like a business owner.
So you want to be an author, but don't know how to get started?
If you are considering jumping in the deep end of the writing pool, let me be your water wings. Writing can feel like a blind leap of faith into unkown waters for sure. Read and follow these seven tips that all the pros already know, then you too will know what direction to start swiming in when you break the surface.
1.) Read everything you can get your hands on. Stephen King said, "If you don't have time to read, you don't have time to write." It's not because we are a snobby group that thinks you have to jump through our hoops to become one of is. It is because reading hones your writing skills.
2.) Write EVERY day. Yes, every day. I don't care if it is one paragraph. Every day. Writing every day creates a habit. The habit of writing gets you through that dreaded "writer's block", which when you are a professional on a deadline you don’t have time for. Have you ever heard of Surgeons getting surgery block? No? It's a job, one you practice over and over until you become so in tune with it obstacles don’t stop you. You learn ways to work around them.
3) Network. A very wise agent one told me early in my career, "You cannot write in a vacuum." Why? Because you must learn to be a writer. You may believe it is your calling, you may believe you were born with talent. But talent and skill are two different things. You don’t think Leonardo da Vinci sat down and painted the Mona Lisa his first run out, do you? He learned at the feet of other artists until he became a great artist himself. There are many groups you can join, etc. However, take a good look and make sure they are not just back scratching, you give me a shout out and I will give you one. I find in most of those cases, no one is really listening. A good group to join is INKSLINGERS DEN. (okay yes, mine) I have industry professionals come in once a week and do live chats and seminars for free. Yes, that means you can ask a publisher or agent a question in live time. It is free, safe and no strings. We are all in this together.
4) Decide who you are early on. To pen name or not to pen name could be an entire different post. But decide who you will be and as you network (remember #3) do it as this person. The name you will write under. You may not realize it, but as you network, you are already building your tribe. (Side note: Google is your friend. Do a search for that name before you settle on it to make sure there aren’t any famous strippers who share your name.)
5) Claim your universe. Once you know who you are, go out there and grab it. Set up all your social media accounts with the same name so it is easy for your future fans to follow you. If they know you on Facebook, they should easily be able to take that name to Instagram and find you there too, if that is one of your 'hang-outs'.
6) Pick your hats carefully. You cannot be an expert at all things all at once. The number of things we seem to need to learn to do can be overwhelming. Most authors discover it is not all about writing a book. There is designing a website, promotion and marketing and social media networking. It can get overwhelming. But remember first and foremost, you must write. You have to have a book in order to promote it right? Decide if your time is better spent learning the craft of writing or learning the craft of book cover design... Consider farming out some of those hats. Ask around, (another reason for that networking I mentioned earlier) get recommendations. Sometimes a good PA (virtual personal assistant) is worth their weight in gold. Sometimes you meet authors (like me) who have a side business helping with that sort of thing.
7) Get feedback. I am not talking your mom here. Your mom loves you and probably framed the first scribble you ever made. I know this because I framed my kids' scribbles. FEEDBACK. Get a partner, join a writers group, be willing to put yourself out there, and above all else, be willing to learn from what they have to say. Nothing frustrates people more, not just authors any profession really, for someone to say hey I want to learn to do this wonderful thing, how do I get started then be disappointed when they say there is more to it than snapping your fingers.
I am not the final word in writing. However, I get asked once a week how to do it. And I do have three traditionally published books, so I must know one or two things worth sharing. So, this is me sharing. I hope you find it helpful and feel free to ask me anything. I may not have the answer. But chances are I can direct you to a place you can find some.